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~*~


“Christmas bells are riiiiiiinging!
Christmas bells are riiiiinging!
Christmas bells are riiiiinging!
Somewhere else! Not here!”


*


“You okay honey?”


“I’m afraid so.”


“They get any money?”


“Nope, had none to get - but they purloined my coat.
Well you missed a sleeve!
-Thanks.-”


“Hell, it’s Christmas Eve!


I’m Angel.”


“Angel… indeed. An angel of the first degree.”


*


Boy, it sure paid to be best friends with Mimi’s understudy.


It’d been immediately apparent that the - front row, aisle, free - seats Genevieve had snagged for them were some of the best in the house, but that fact was really being driven home as Jared gazed at the stunning man in front of him. Not ten feet away onstage, Angel (indeed) was singing about AIDS and Life Support meetings, though he could have been singing the telephone book for all Jared cared (he knew the plot anyway, thankfully, being fairly familiar with both the 2005 movie and the Broadway soundtrack; he was, after all, a theatre major); Angel’s voice was just as distracting and beautiful as the rest of him. His eyes sparkled even under the low lighting the director had chosen for the alley scene, their green accentuated by a thin line of kohl and long, golden lashes. He had the grace of a dancer as he helped Collins get back on his feet; broad shoulders and nicely muscled arms were easy to make out beneath his thin hoodie, and when he stood back up from where he’d crouched at Collins’ side, his skinny jeans did nothing to hide the slight bow to his legs. Jared shivered lightly in anticipation, knowing Angel’s propensity for wearing short skirts in later scenes, and he thanked God, again, that he had such an awesome friend in Gen. As Angel and Collins hobbled offstage, Jared settled back in his seat with a contented sigh. He was looking forward to enjoying the rest of the show.


---


‘Enjoy’ probably wasn’t the most accurate way to describe how Jared felt about his experience watching RENT live for the first time, he thought wryly as he wiped tears from his eyes for the third (and final) time of the performance. Well, obviously he’d enjoyed it - it was a phenomenal musical and this production had been nothing short of amazing - but it had affected him so thoroughly, as only the best art really could. He sighed deeply and then turned to his best friend with a wide smile.


“So, shall we go congratulate everyone on a job well-fucking-done?” he asked.


Gen returned his grin immediately, her own eyes shining with tears, still touched by the acting of her friends even though she’d been present for nearly every dress rehearsal and then some.


“Hell yeah, let’s go.” She stood quickly and grabbed both his arms to pull him to his feet; for as tiny as she was compared to his 6’4 frame, she was deceptively strong. She hooked her arm into his elbow and started leading him, following the rest of the audience out of the auditorium to where the cast would be waiting.


---


“Jensen! Babe! You fucking killed it!!” Gen squealed and threw herself at Angel, aka Jensen Ackles; 28-year-old alum from the same school Gen and Jared were at now; double major in theatre and education; currently a teacher at a local elementary school. He liked craft beer, good BBQ, hockey, and walks along the lake. (Jared may or may not have memorized the man’s short biography in the program during intermission.)


Gen pulled away from hugging Jensen and turned to face Jared, introducing him as she had to all her other friends they’d met as they made their way through the line.


“Jensen, this is my best friend Jared.”


“Ah, the infamous Jared! I’ve heard a thing or two about you.”


Jared reached out to accept Jensen’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically.


“Yeah, that’s me, I guess,” he chuckled, looking away in a quick fit of self-consciousness. He lifted his gaze back to Jensen’s face, where he could now see the smattering of copper freckles across his nose and cheeks, and the endearing crinkles at the corners of his eyes that appeared when he smiled.


“Like Gen said, you fucking killed it, man. This was my first time seeing the show live - I forgot how much more Angel there is in the broadway version! Not that I’m complaining at all. You were fantastic.” Jared realized he was still holding Jensen’s hand, and he let it go reluctantly.


Jensen just beamed back at him.


“Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the show.”


“Heh. Yeah, yeah I did. You guys made me cry three times!” Jared admitted with a small grin. Jensen threw back his head in a full-body laugh at that, his arms coming up to rest on his flat stomach.


“Oh man, that’s great. Really. And the orgy scene, how’d you feel about that? That’s definitely different than the movie.” He winked at Jared as he regained his composure.


“Definitely. It was, um.. It was really close?” Jared let out a nervous chuckle. “We were in the front row, so… yeah. Close. But, and I’m not just saying this, I really mean it… Your, I mean, Angel’s, death was truly the most moving, beautifully performed scene of the show. Maybe it’s just because we were so close… but you sold it so completely, and to convey that kind of emotion without saying anything? You were really… really amazing, man. Great job, seriously. It was awesome watching you up there.”


“Wow, thanks, man.” Jensen’s cheeks turned slightly pink and his eyes sparkled a little extra, but he reached out to shake Jared’s hand again. “I’m glad you could make it out to see the show. Really appreciate the compliment.”


“It was my pleasure.” Jared gave Jensen’s hand an extra squeeze before letting go again. He turned to Genevieve, who’d been standing silently beside them as they’d talked.


“Shall we?” He held out his elbow to her. Jensen was the last in line, so it was time for them to head back home.


“Yes, let’s.” She leaned forward to kiss Jensen’s cheek quickly before taking Jared’s arm. “Have a good night, Jensen! I’ll see you tomorrow!”


“Goodnight, Gen. Nice to meet you, Jared,” Jensen said, smiling one more time as he looked directly into Jared’s eyes.


“Nice to meet you, too. Goodnight!” He turned and led Gen out of the building with a warm, happy feeling in his heart that wasn’t chilled in the least by the light snow falling outside as they made their way to Jared’s car.



~*~


Jared was not in a good mood. Of course, the night before he had a huge paper due - that, naturally, he hadn’t even started writing yet - was the night he realized a) he was down to his last pair of boxers, and b) the washer in his apartment building was busted. He scowled as he dropped his big Rubbermaid basket down with a loud thud and skated it across the dirty floor towards the first open machine. This was the second laundromat he’d been to tonight, the one nearest his apartment already swamped with other college students in presumably the same position as him. Clean clothes tended to be pretty low on the priority list when homework and other school stuff seemed so overwhelming. But Jared could not overlook the fact that he would have no underwear to wear to the next couple days of classes if he didn’t do some laundry tonight, so here he was.


At least this place takes cards, he thought, thankful, to himself. He’d been meaning to stock up on quarters sometime soon too, but that was yet another task that kept getting pushed aside in favor of class, homework, and sleep. He filled the first washer with his lighter items (yes, he still separated his clothes into lights and darks, just like his momma taught him), then dragged his remaining load to the next available machine he could find. He started both washers at the same time and, making a mental note of which machines were his, set an alarm on his phone for thirty minutes. He then dragged his empty basket over to the corner where he’d dropped off his backpack upon arriving. He traded places with his bag, sitting in the chair it’d been saving for him and setting it on the floor to pull out his laptop. He plugged in the power cord, connected his earbuds to his phone, and opened up his word processor, cracking his knuckles in preparation. Let’s do this.


---


Ten minutes later, Jared was still staring off into space, doing everything to avoid looking at the cursor on his blank document that kept winking at him expectantly. He fucking hated writing college papers, and the longer they were, the more he hated them (and the longer he tended to put off writing them; it was a very destructive cycle). So he was easily distracted when the door to the laundromat opened, sending a cool draft of air over to Jared’s previously cozy corner. The man who stepped inside carrying an empty basket was a larger shock to Jared’s system, though.


“Angel!” he practically shouted. His face immediately turned red as the man turned to him with a surprised look on his face. Of course he was surprised - Jared had called him by his character’s name, and rather loudly in a relatively quiet space, the humming of the machines the only significant sounds in the small building. He’d been obsessed with RENT ever since he and Gen had seen it last week, but it didn’t have to mean anything, even if he did still remember every bit of information about Jensen Ackles, 28-year-old elementary school teacher/actor, that he’d read in the theatre company’s brochure.


In another wondrous turn of events, Jensen smiled when he saw Jared and headed towards him.


“Jared, right?” he asked via way of greeting, and Jared ducked his head in embarrassment.


“Yeah. Sorry, I do remember your name, too. I promise, Jensen.” He looked back up to see Jensen’s expression only brighten, his smile broad, and Colgate white. Jensen set his smaller basket two seats away from Jared, and proceeded to sit right between it and Jared. Jared straightened a bit in his chair, but his leg remained pleasantly warm where their thighs touched. He minimized his empty doc and closed his laptop, favoring conversation with Jensen over his stubborn paper. Jensen was still grinning at him when he looked back up from stuffing his computer back in his bag.


“So, you come here often?” Jensen asked, smirking at Jared, but in a friendly way, like he could appreciate the banality of the conversation starter. Jared just shook his head and laughed.


“Naw. Usually I just do the laundry at home, but the machine in my apartment busted, so I’m stuck out here.”


“That desperate for clean clothes, huh? You got a hot date or something?”


“Actually, I uh…” Jared scratched the back of his neck and smoothed down the shaggy layers of hair there. “I ran out of underwear. Desperate times, man.”


Jensen laughed out loud at that, then wondered, “What, guy like you can’t stand going commando every now and then?”


Jared let out an amazed gasp and felt his face turn red.


“Um, no? I, uh… just no,” he laughed. He frantically searched his brain for a change of subject. “So, uh, how’s the show going? You’ve got two more weekends of performances, right?”


“Yeah, it’s going really great!” Jensen smiled happily at Jared, but didn’t continue.


“That’s it?” Jared laughed. “Just ‘great’?”


“Yeah, I don’t know, man.” Jensen shrugged. “Genevieve said you’re a theatre major too, right? I mean, so you know how it goes?”


“Yeah, I guess I do.” Jared leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, considering. “Lots of stress, late nights, the high of performing… then crashing and doing it all again for the next two days, with a four day break in between.”


Jensen nodded his agreement. Then Jared realized - Jensen knew stuff, remembered stuff about him?


“So, uh, does Gen talk about me a lot?” He chuckled, a little embarrassed.


“She kinda does, yeah.” Jensen smiled at him with an odd sort of fondness for someone he’d only met once before in his life. “It’s easy to see why you two are such good friends.”


“Yeah, I…”


Just then, Jensen’s watch filled the room with a loud beeping noise and he scrambled to silence his alarm. He gave a wry little smile and tilted his head back towards the machines.


“That’s my cue,” he said. He turned to grab his basket, and Jared couldn’t help admiring one last close-up view of his slender neck - also covered in freckles - and the push of his thigh against his.


“Well, Jared,” he said as he rose to his feet, “It was really nice running into you again.” He held out his hand and Jared took it, lingering only a little before letting go again. Jensen drew in a quick little breath, but his smile was soft and his eyes sparkled.


“Yeah, you too. You’re not sticking around?”


“Nope. Clothes should be dry, then I gotta head back to my place ASAP. If I don’t put ‘em away right away I lose track of which are clean or dirty. That and I’ve got an early morning at school tomorrow.”


“Right, elementary kids.”


Jensen raised an eyebrow.


“I read your bio in the RENT brochure,” Jared admitted, blushing again but only giving a small shrug as though it was no matter.


“Oh, cool.” Jensen gave him another bright smile. “Well, I’ll see you around then!”


“Yeah, that’d be nice.” Jared watched him for a moment as he walked away to collect his clothes. Those legs and that ass… a very nice view, though Jared was sad for the loss of such a pleasant excuse to put off writing his paper. With a heavy sigh he turned back to his bag to again retrieve his laptop, hoping he would soon find the words to just finish the damn assignment.


A few minutes later, Jensen smiled and waved at him as he left the laundromat, and Jared returned to typing away at his paper, the threat of an all-nighter somehow no longer seeming quite so bad.



~*~


Fuck Jared was drunk. He couldn’t remember even having had enough to drink to become so plastered, but he was certain Chad had something to do with it. Speaking of his other best friend… Jared scanned the tiny bar, searching for a familiar head of spiky-blonde hair. He recognized a couple faces, but none of them were Chad. Couldn’t keep track of that boy even if he put a collar on him, Jared mused hazily. He leaned against the bar and squinted into the far dark corners, stumbling forward a bit as he did so, darting a hand out to grip the edge of the bar and keep himself from face-planting into the grimy, beer-stained linoleum. Fuck, but he was drunk. He let his head hang for a moment as he regained control of his balance, breathing heavily, when suddenly a warm hand was on his shoulder, and another pushing at his chest to bring him back to standing.

“You alright there big guy?” A voice directly from Jared’s fantasies, and yet vaguely familiar, too, asked him, concern and a little amusement evident in its timbre. Jared let the hands guide him until he was upright once again, and he turned slowly to reassure his helper that he was okay.


“Yeah, I’m f- Jensen!”


“No, I’m pretty sure you’re Jared.” Jensen’s ever-sparkling eyes shined at him along with his wide, movie-star smile. He looked great, dressed for a night out it would seem, his dark jeans hugging him in all the right places and his black button-up shirt stretched tight across his perfect chest. The top two buttons were undone revealing the dip in his throat, and Jared was sorely tempted to just keep leaning forward in Jensen’s arms, still holding him up, and lick at the thin sheen of sweat that had made its home there.


He was pretty sure that wasn’t acceptable behavior in public with someone he’d only met twice before though, even if they were on a first-name basis. He shook his head to try clearing the buzz from his brain, and lifted his eyes again to Jensen’s face. Jensen was still smiling broadly at him, but his eyes were a shade darker now, and he was biting his lower lip, almost as though he was holding in laughter. Jared tried not to stare at the indent his teeth were making, rather focusing on Jensen’s eyes instead.


“Right. Yeah.” Jared blinked and laughed, very belatedly. “Dad jokes, nice. Must be residual from all the time you spend with your students.”


“Wow, clearly you can’t be that drunk, using words like that. ‘Residual!’” he sing-songed, then whistled as though impressed.


Jared laughed and pushed away, using Jensen’s chest as leverage and let his weight again fall fully on his own two feet… and one palm braced against the sticky bar, just in case.


“Oh, haha, very funny.” Jared glanced around the bar again, and he realized why some of the faces he’d previously recognized looked familiar. “What’re you doing tonight? Some sort of cast party?”


“Yeah, actually.” Jensen leaned against the bar too, his gaze steady on Jared. “We had our second to last performance tonight! Figured we ought to celebrate.”


“Hell yeah!” Jared lightly punched at Jensen’s shoulder. “Congratulations, man.” He looked over at him with a goofy smile on his face, one Jensen reflected back at him, and they stood in silence for a moment just staring at each other. Then Jared shook his head again; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this drunk. Fucking Chad.


“Well then, what are you doing over here with me? Shouldn’t you be over with them, living it up? You know, La Vie Boheme, and all that?” He paused, cocking his head to the side in thought. “You’re not gonna start dancing on tables and shit, are you?”


Jensen threw back his head and laughed loudly.


“No, dude. We save that for the stage.” Jensen shook his head, but his smile was kind. Then he shrugged. “I dunno. I came over to get the next round, then saw you bent all over at the bar… and, well I couldn’t resist.” He raised both eyebrows and waggled them suggestively.


“I’m sorry, what? You’re saying you were tempted by my drunk ass? Literally?”


“Maybe.” Jensen held his gaze. “Would you have a problem with that?”


Jared didn’t even think twice, though later he’d blame the alcohol for it.


“Hell no! Why would I mind?” He gave Jensen a blatant head to toe to head once-over. “I mean, have you seen yourself? I’d be lucky to have you even loo--”


The both of them jumped when there was a huge crashing noise from the other side of the bar, over by restrooms. Jared spun around to see what the commotion was about, only to finally catch sight of the familiar face he’d initially been searching for.


“Fucking hell. Cha-aaad,” he groaned. He glanced regretfully at Jensen. “It’s been awesome talking with you Jensen, but that’s my idiot on the floor over there. I’m obligated by the pinky-swear we made in first grade to help him out,” he informed solemnly.


Jensen stared at him a bit wide-eyed before letting out an amused huff.


“Sure man, no problem. Go help your friend. I’ll see you around, yeah?”


“I hope so, Jensen. I really do.” Jared gave him a small, hopeful smile. Jensen returned it, then nodded in Chad’s direction.


“Go on then. And Jared?”


“Yeah?”


“Good luck.”


“Thanks,” Jared mumbled as he turned away. He was gonna need it. Fucking Chad.



~*~


“Buns, buns, buns!” Jared sang a little tune under his breath as he loaded the bags of bread onto the conveyor belt. Of course it wasn’t so simple as just setting them down, he had to scan each one on his own, searching anew every time for the barcode. His impromptu song apparently wasn’t as quiet as he’d thought though, because he could hear the man at the self-checkout next to him chuckling darkly.


“You really like buns, huh man?”


Jared looked up, his face turning beet red. The man stared back at him, his shoulder-length brown hair pulled away from his face in a half ponytail, amusement clear in his bright blue eyes. He smirked a little when he met Jared’s gaze, but not unkindly.


“Uh…” Jared wasn’t really sure how he was supposed to respond to that. He just stood there with his last bag of buns clutched in his hand, mouth opening and closing on words that wouldn’t come.


“Chris, what poor soul have you intimidated into silence now?” Suddenly another man appeared from behind the man’s fluffy black winter jacket and Jared blinked in surprise at the familiar face. Jensen’s mouth formed a silent ‘oh’ and he paused for a moment before laughing and clapping his friend hard on his puffy shoulder.


“Hey there, Jared!” He quickly scanned his 24-pack of Coke and swung his arm back to his side, the case of soda still in hand. The voice in the machine scolded him for not bagging his item, but Jensen just ignored it. His friend rolled his eyes dramatically and tended to the screen, pressing the necessary buttons to finalize their purchase.


“Don’t mind Chris, Jare’. He’s all sharp and pointy when you first meet him, but really he’s just a giant teddy bear.” Chris elbowed Jensen’s back roughly at that, causing Jensen to stumble forward a step, but Jensen just laughed, his grin only growing wider. Jared smiled back, still feeling a little sheepish, but relieved that the teasing seemed to be all in good fun.


“So how about it, Jare’? Was my man Chris right? You a buns kind of guy?”


Jared choked on his laughter and quickly turned away, scanning his last bag and sending it down the line. He shook his head and pretended to be extra focused on selecting the correct payment method. He finished swiping his card and was just about to sign his name when he felt a hand land lightly on his shoulder. He straightened up and looked directly into Jensen’s eyes, immediately getting a little (a lot) lost in their emerald depths.


“You okay?” Jensen asked, his brow furrowed slightly. “You know we were only giving you crap.”


Chris slipped his wallet back in his pocket and grabbed the two plastic bags out from the bagging area.


“Your boy’s fine, Jen. Come on, we gotta go, Danni’s waitin’.”


Jensen turned to Chris and nodded, then looked back and searched Jared’s face one more time. Then he stepped back with a warm smile and a quick squeeze of Jared’s shoulder.


“Have a happy Thanksgiving, Jared.” And then he was following Chris through the sliding glass doors with the sexiest bowlegged swagger Jared had ever seen. Though he was too far away to hear, Jared responded, his voice barely a whisper over the beeping of the card reader that had started creeping back into the edge of his awareness.


“Happy Thanksgiving. Jensen.” He sighed happily as he gazed at the spot Jensen had just been, then waited patiently, without a care, for an associate to assist him with the angry credit-card machine. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.


PART TWO | MASTERPOST

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